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Their Fifteen Minutes of Flame

Wednesday, Mar 6, 2013

Moot Court finalists face final grilling

by Darren Schenck

photos by Mikel Healey

Yes, the USC Gould Hale Moot Court Honors Program competition is a year-long commitment that entails long hours of researching cases, writing briefs and dissecting arguments.

 From left: the Honorable Jacqueline H. Nguyen, the Honorable
 Frank H. Easterbrook and the Honorable Kim M. Wardlaw

But like any good competition, what drew scores of students, faculty, friends and family to the USC Norris Theater on Friday was the prospect of live, unscripted give-and-take between the four students who had reached the final round and a panel of three highly distinguished judges.

Facing the judges for fifteen minutes each – or longer, when the judges saw fit to keep asking questions – were 2Ls Kyle Batter, Aaron Ginsburg, Ian Henry and Shaunt Kodaverdian.

Posing the questions were the Honorable Frank H. Easterbrook, Chief Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit; the Honorable Jacqueline H. Nguyen of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; and the Honorable Kim M. Wardlaw of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Although the judges were unanimous in their praise of all the finalists, Judge Easterbrook declared Kodaverdian this year’s champion, with Henry earning the runner-up position.

 Shaunt Kodaverdian '14 is declared champ

“We would welcome any of you four in our court any day,” Judge Easterbrook said.

He said the best use of oral argument time is to have a conversation with the judge about those issues that reside on the margins of a case.

“Oral advocacy is the biggest, most complicated art form in legal practice,” he said. “I call it an art form because there isn’t any right or wrong way to do it… It has about the most difficult structure you can imagine.”

Like Judge Easterbrook, Judge Wardlaw praised the students for their poise and preparedness.

“You’re better than most of the oralists who come before our court,” she said. “It was really difficult to pick a winner.”

Judge Nguyen congratulated not only the finalists but also their friends and family in attendance.

“They must be very proud of you, and rightly so,” she said. “All four of you demonstrated why you are the finalists in this competition. You have the poise and the maturity that it takes some lawyers years to learn.”

As Hale Moot Court champion, Kodaverdian received the Edward G. Lewis Champion Award, a cash prize endowed by Lewis ’70, who chaired the Hale Moot Court board as a student. He is a member of the law school’s Board of Councilors and a charter member of the university’s Widney Society.

The other finalists received Judge E. Avery Crary Awards, cash prizes named in honor of Judge Crary ’29, who served on both the Los Angeles Superior Court and the U.S. District Court.

USC Law’s Hale Moot Court is a student-run honors program whose board comprises 3L students who participated in the program the previous year. The board invites all first-year students to compete in qualifying rounds each spring, and then offers 40 1Ls the opportunity to compete during their 2L year.

 The judges with (from left): runner-up Ian Henry, Kodaverdian,
 Dean Robert K. Rasmussen, Kyle Batter and Aaron Ginsburg

Board members create a topic that involves two legal issues, and each participant drafts an appellate brief on behalf of either the petitioner or respondent. As participants move through each round of competition, some who have argued for one side must take the other side during the next round. Prof. Rebecca Lonergan serves as faculty advisor to the program.

This year’s case involved a star high school basketball player who, after posting a vulgar online post criticizing the school’s athletic director, was removed from the team, making him ineligible for a college scholarship he had been expecting. The district court granted the student’s parents a motion for a preliminary injunction allowing their son to remain on the team pending litigation using the “serious questions” standard. Finalists argued that the district court either did or did not abuse its discretion in granting the motion.

The other issue was whether the district court had erred in granting the petitioners’ summary judgment motion on the grounds that a school district had violated their son’s First Amendment rights.

Learn more about the USC Gould Hale Moot Court Honors Program.

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